Photographs courtesy of Alderman Danny Solis

Thanks mainly to the foresight and ingenuity of Chicago Urban Art Society, Pawn Works, and Alderman Danny Solis, Pilsen has undergone some long overdue street art transformation. The art mindstate has been experiencing a real renaissance of late. The seed was planted long ago by our city’s OG shot-callers, and we can now collectively watch that seed sprout during this rebirth of sorts that is taking place throughout the neighborhood. This weekend marks the special 10th anniversary of Pilsen Open Studios, and the streets are now getting in on the fun…permanently, making Chicago (and Pilsen in particular) a destination for appreciators of art and international artists alike. Chicago has now become a major player, and we’ve truly taken it to the next level. The time is now and our shine has been birthed for the world to enjoy. Now, we are challenged to make sure of two things: that our artists and our walls are not exploited for the common bad. And that motherfuckers don’t vandalize what’s good.

Chicago Urban Art Society‘s Lauren Pacheco lays out some of the process below in an interview on the nuts and bolts of the Pilsen Renaissance taking place in front of our very eyes.

How did the project of taking back the walls of the Southside come to be?
Ha! I like your style. First, the idea for mural creation on retaining cement walls along the railroad or private walls around the community isn’t a new concept. Folks have been doing this either legally or illegally for years. The 16th street project has been discussed for years too – both within circles in the community and on the Alderman’s end. In my role with CUAS, Peter Kepha and I have always been interested in increasing public art on the south side. Personally, I wouldn’t consider Pilsen the south side since I’m from Brighton Park located on Chicago’s southwest side, but considering using public art as a way to move visual artists into mural making is one of the ways we discussed CUAS continuing to support the artist or art maker. So, when I was hired by Alderman Solis in November 2011, he asked me to conceptualize a ward-wide approach to increasing arts in the community; thus, Art in Public Places Initiative. This would serve as an approach to enhancing the ward’s already rich tradition of public art, or mural making along with some creative placemaking ideas in activating our parks, cul-de-sacs, public spaces or, with the city’s idea of transforming alleys into “people spots”.  All very exciting and, really assets in the community.

What has feedback from the community been like so far?
The truth is, the community has changed. And, art also evolves. In Pilsen particularly, you are dealing with traditionalists when it comes to art expression; or those pretty heavy on preserving Mexican heritage without being very accepting of how that’s portrayed. On the flip side, you have artists of all backgrounds living and working in the community who are from a “new school” with different aesthetics but still have tons of respect for traditional mural making and its fathers. For every one person who doesn’t understand or like a new piece, we confidently have 5 who are hands down big supporters of the project. It’s a hell of alot better to look at a huge graphic piece rather than some Chicago brown paint. Recently, the Gaia piece was vandalized. It’s frustrating for sure to see that this person(s) isn’t able to use their words and have an adult conversation about why they are opposed to a particular piece. What this project isn’t going to do is go on a “let me convince you” campaign with the opposition. If we did, nothing would get done, ha! Doesn’t imply insensitivity, it’s more about momentum. Because the momentum right now on this project can mean big budget allocations which, means more opportunities for artists with stipends! But as far as implementing a community project, it’s been accepted as something that the Alderman sees as an asset for the community beautification, graffiti crew re-focus on other areas of the ward, providing opportunities for artists…all of which drive economic stimulation and quality of life. It’s still a work in progress. We remain open to conversations and still accept proposals. Progress always gets people talking!

What should traditional Open Studios-goers expect this year, in particular from the trolley ride?
The goal of the free, leisure trolley ride (emphasis on leisure) will be to offer a casual ride through the ward using its art, architecture, and people to serve as a beautiful backdrop. It is expected that people have passed a Duarte, Zimmerman, Serrano or Aguirre mural in walking or driving through Pilsen. However, this ride allows for someone else to drive and for the viewers’ natural senses to simply observe the art from their seat without the distraction of breaking or signaling. The excitement of seeing a piece for the first time from the corner of your eye is full of experience that a strictly guided tour might not be able to offer. So, it’s less being talked at rather than enjoying the community in action with the art as the setting. While I think hearing history and technique is important, this ride is much more laid back.

Which artists will be participating in the trolley ride?
Artists were invited and may jump on at any time during the event. Nick (from Pawn Works) and I will be there to hang out and upload tons of pics to instagram and twitter!

Will any of them be available this weekend to chat about their work? Yes, we are coordinating things now. Two artists will be painting pieces as well (weather permitting).

How did Alderman Solis go about initiating the transformation of the walls of his ward?
The project kicked off in June. A public proposal was announced and creatives were encouraged to apply.

CUAS, along with Pawn Works, has done such amazing work getting some internationally known artists to paint murals and pieces. Do you feel this diminishes in any way the contributions or our local talent or do you see it as a motivator for them?
The Alderman and I both believe that the out of state talent serves two functions:  stimulates national and international press attention and helps to separate the space from other mural sites in the city. For example, where else could you see a Gaia piece, Reyes along the same route as those local artists like Rodrigo Solo Mireles, Chema Skndal!, Brooks Golden, Uriel Correa, and Chris Silva?  It brings about a healthy dose of creative competition and innovation. Now, the older murals will undergo a series of facelifts as well in re-establishing their presence and paying respect to what they symbolize. People travel every year to see the Open Walls project, Wynwood Walls or the Philly or Baltimore murals. That means those cities are getting revenue for its business community. Think about what this wall could mean economically (not only) for the city but the community!  And the artists on the wall would have had a hand in it.

There is a nice blend of locals though, too. Does this new scene finally make Chicago a destination for art-lovers to add to their list(s) of places to visit to see some of the best street art in the world?
If AIPP could take credit for stimulating a Chi Town art destination then okay! But the truth is that Chicago’s subculture/low brow and alternative art scene has been making moves for years. With the development of the web and its mass production/visibility, these forums have really just illuminated the scene to a much broader audience. Art administrators, gallerists, artists and art makers have always been practicing and producing. The street art and urban, contemporary world in Chicago is smaller and I think much more focused. It’s also right now, really trendy. The best and most evolving will survive. This project, specifically the murals, serves as a platform for the artist advancement/evolutionary boundary pushing practice going on out there.

The success in the project would be to really connect public art with economic development in our communities. Not the bigger budget projects in the loop or lakefront. The action is in our communities. These are the people to jump on buses to check out local art openings. These are the people that vote to support arts funding.  The disconnect are the hoops and beauracracies that in some ways prevent a destination like The 16th Street Corridor to be placed on a top list for tourists to visit.  Pilsen is really lucky though, its general proximity, it’s culture rich, really makes for this project to flourish and is a natural tourist destination. The challenge will be how we realistically infuse public art and creative opportunities in our communities that will need to get on board with being innovative and provocative.

So yah, in a super short answer, it is our hope both the Alderman and I, to see this project become a premier destination to see a provocative blend of street art, traditionalist cultural pieces and, evolutionary aesthetics. This end product is owed to each artist and muralist who participated in the project.

Do you have a favorite piece that’s gone up in the last couple of months?
It’s hard to point out my favorites. Of course the out of state talent like OverUnder’s blue face with hints of tattoo/tribalism, of a local woman is just outstanding. Or the way Reyes used the curved wall in his explosion of almost studio based work in an outdoor presentation. In the last month, for sure Chema‘s and Rodrigo’s pieces are both bold pieces on difficult wall textures with such clean aerosol control or sign painting skills.

What is your favorite thing about Chicago Artists’ Month?
Well, what is not my favorite thing about CAM is that the programming doesn’t touch more communities, i.e. Brighton Park, Back of the Yards. CUAS would have loved to create a month long art series of awesome activities in BP, but of course funding is always an issue. It’s a weakness of the CAM program really.

My favorite thing is that spaces that I really respect kick ass with whatever show they are pulling off. And those new spaces get a chance to piggyback on the CAM momentum.

Take me through a busy day in the life of Lauren Pacheco…
You really want to hear this! Not very exciting. I haven’t been on a vacation in over 6 years first of all!

Morning through about 7pm= Alderman Solis, 25th Ward business; in the office or meetings; dropping off ladders or scaffolding; securing donations for paint;  planning for next year after budget discussions with the alderman (recent convos)
Post-7pm = CUAS hustling and moving and shaking; arguing with my brother, ha!
Late evening =  drinks at Simones or Harbees. Netflix.  Chinatown late night dinner.
Sleep= dream about winning the lotto

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